'Doom Eternal' Review: Ripping And Tearing Is More Thoughtful In 2020
There's a place your mind goes to when playing Doom Eternal. An almost zen-like state. The demonic enemies you face fall away and become data on a graph. The ground floor of the arena is becoming too dangerous, so you register the cacodemon floating above as a way out, switch to your super shotgun and use its meat hook attachment to grapple out of the hotspot. You see enemies clustered around a soldier with an energy shield, so you overload it with shots from your plasma rifle, causing it to explode and thin out the herd. An Arachnotron's turret is raining fire down on you from above so you switch to your grenade launcher and take it out - limiting it to close-range weapons. Doom becomes like a loose dance, one where you're under constant pressure but always making decisions.
Doom Eternal is a much more complex game than its predecessor. At its heart is the same trick of locking you in a room with a horde from hell and leaving you to spin through your weapons, firing off plasma, rockets, and lead into the monsters until all that's left of them are guts and rib cages. But around that violent core are lots of new systems that complicate the combat.
The most obvious change is resource management. In Doom Eternal, your enemies aren't just meat bags to be eviscerated; depending on how you kill them, they're pinatas bursting with health, ammo, and armour. If you're low on health, for example, you want to glory kill a foe. This is when you get them low enough on health that they become staggered and begin to flash gold. Tap the right button and you're treated to an extremely violent kill, such as tearing off an Arachnotron's leg and stabbing it through its eye. As the enemy dies, health picks ups will pour out of it.
For armour pick-ups, you now have a shoulder-mounted flamethrower. You use this to torch your enemies, and any damage you do to them is rewarded with armour. If you kill an enemy that's on fire you get even more bonus armour shards. For ammo, you want to chainsaw an enemy, splitting them in two to get at the lovely bundles of bullets inside.
This new system means you approach each battle more intelligently than you did in Doom (2016). If you're short on ammo, you need to look for a weak enemy that you can chainsaw to fill up. Or, you might see a crowd of enemies that can be easily torched and dispatched for armour shards. But after tearing through the campaign, I found myself veering between admiring the depth it added to combat and becoming frustrated with the times it worked against me.
So many times I would try to chainsaw an enemy for ammo only to find the tool's fuel hadn't recharged yet, and then get slashed at by the monster I was hoping to carve in two. It's not just that I didn't get the ammo, but I felt stupid for dumbly walking up to a demon in the first place. There is an icon on the screen to let you know when your chainsaw is charged, so the mistake is entirely mine, but every time it happened it popped the game's power fantasy and took me out of the flow of the combat. The simple answer is to get better at the game, and I will, but it made my first playthrough less thrilling than 2016's Doom.
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Mastering Doom Eternal's combat and replaying the campaign is what drives the game's other systems. You can now upgrade your suit, modify your guns, and discover runes and sentinel crystals that change your abilities. You can find a few of these upgrades by sticking to the path of the campaign; but most of them are hidden behind breakable walls or on ledges only accessible with some agile platforming. This is a game that wants to be searched and dissected on multiple playthroughs.
There are also lots of secret items that are purely there for the collector - cheat codes that radically change the game by unlocking all of its runes at once (whereas normally you can only have three active at once), soundtrack extras, and virtual toys of all the game's monsters.
Doom Eternal's later levels are like rabbit warrens. Combining the double jump of 2016's Doom with your new ability to air dash and climb certain walls, you can now enjoy lots of first-person platforming. These make the Doom Slayer a much more mobile character to play - though, they are also sometimes extremely frustrating, as first-person platforming has been for decades. There's nothing that makes you feel less like the scourge of Hell than bumping your head on the ceiling and missing your landing, falling to your death like an idiot.
One final frustration are two enemies in particular - the marauder and the gladiator. Both are armed with invincible shields, and you have to wait for a small window in their attacks to actually hit them for damage. While making for a more tactical fight, it doesn't feel very Doom to have to dance around an invincible enemy waiting for a moment to do a tiny amount of damage. Much like the moment with the empty chainsaw, it interrupts the flow of combat in a game that normally feels like a constant dance of ripping and tearing.
That's the crux of Doom Eternal. In every way, developer Id's new shooter is bigger than its predecessor, more developed, more thought out. On paper it's a much richer game than the 2016 comeback, but it's one that interrupts you, stopping your flow too often. The first few hours of the game see frequent pauses for tutorial messages and cutscenes - and these interruptions make for a poor introduction. Especially considering the last game dropped you into the action immediately and didn't let up until you'd completed the campaign.
I'm going to go back and replay Eternal and I think it will be better on its second run, maybe better even than 2016's Doom - but I wish that was the case on the first playthrough.
Featured Image Credit: Id Software